Big Ten names Kevin Warren new commissioner

The Big Ten’s transition of power is now underway.

The conference announced Tuesday that Kevin Warren has been named the sixth commissioner in league history. Warren, who has served as the Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer since 2005, replaces longtime commissioner Jim Delany at the top of the organization.

Warren will officially start his new duties with the Big Ten on Sept. 16, spending his first three months working alongside Delany, whose 30-year run as the Big Ten’s boss will end on Jan. 1, 2020.

“Kevin is a visionary leader, an experienced, successful and highly respected executive, and a skilled communicator who is uniquely positioned to continue the traditions of excellence that have become synonymous with the Big Ten Conference,” said Michael A. McRobbie, president of Indiana University and chair of the executive search committee. “Over a remarkable and pioneering career, he has developed a reputation among his peers and colleagues as an individual of enormous character, integrity, knowledge and passion, who has dedicated the majority of his professional career to the empowerment of young people and the positive impact athletics can have on improving lives and our society.”

According to a release issued by the Big Ten, Warren was hailed for his work in creating financial profitability for the Vikings during his 15 seasons with the franchise. Prior to joining the Vikings, Warren worked for the law firm of Greenberg Traurig from 2003 to 2005, occupying a leadership role with the Wilf Ownership Group deal team during the acquisition of the Minnesota Vikings.

Warren also spent two seasons (2001-03) with the Detroit Lions as Senior Vice President of Business Operations & General Counsel and four seasons (1997-2001) with the St. Louis Rams as Vice President of Football Administration, and Vice President of Player Programs and Legal Counsel.

As a freshman on the University of Pennsylvania basketball team, Warren was a member of the Quakers’ Ivy League championship team in 1982. A native of Tempe, AZ, he completed his college education at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

“I am absolutely honored to become the sixth commissioner of the Big Ten, a conference with such rich history, tradition, and respect,” Warren said in a statement. “The opportunity is an incredible and unique blend of my lifelong passion, commitment and experience. Positively impacting the lives of young adults has always been part of the fabric of my family and I will work tirelessly with our member schools to ensure that we are providing every possible best in class resource to enhance our students’ educational and athletic experience, as well as empower them for success upon graduation. Jim Delany, our presidents, chancellors, athletic administrators, and coaches have created an extremely strong culture and foundation from which to build. I am very grateful to work alongside Jim as I transition into my role and work to hold true the respected values of the Big Ten, as we propel our conference into the future.”

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Below is a transcript of McRobbie’s remarks at today’s announcement:

I am very pleased to be here this morning, representing my fellow members of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, to make a major announcement about the future of the leadership of the Big Ten Conference.

As many of you know, earlier this year, Jim Delany, who has served with enormous distinction as commissioner of the Big Ten for the last 30 years, announced his intention to step down. Jim is only the fifth person to have served as commissioner of the storied Big Ten Conference since its founding in 1896.

Among his numerous outstanding accomplishments as commissioner, Jim oversaw the expansion of the conference to its present 14 schools, with the addition of Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers universities.

Jim’s superb leadership also resulted in the successful negotiation of media-rights agreements with the ABC, ESPN, Fox, and CBS television networks that have greatly benefitted all of the conference schools and their student athletes, and it resulted in the establishment of the highly successful Big Ten Network, which was only the second sports network in the nation dedicated to covering a single college sports conference. Under Jim’s guidance, the Big Ten has also been a national leader in providing opportunities for students to earn a degree while competing in intercollegiate athletics and in supporting gender equality.

He will be rightly and widely honored over the coming months, but on behalf of all of my fellow Big Ten presidents and chancellors, I want to take this opportunity to express our most sincere and grateful thanks to Jim for his outstanding service to the Big Ten Conference and more broadly to intercollegiate athletics over 30 years.

An executive search committee, comprising a number of Big Ten presidents and chancellors, has conducted an exhaustive national search, with valuable input from across the conference. Our goal was to identify a strategic, thoughtful, and visionary leader with the ability to continue and build upon the traditions of excellence that have become synonymous with the Big Ten Conference.

So, I am extremely pleased to announce today that the committee has identified just such a leader. He is a person with extensive experience across many dimensions of athletics, and will begin his service as commissioner on September 16, 2019 to take full advantage of a transition period working alongside Commissioner Delany, who will officially step down on January 1, 2020.

I am delighted then to announce that the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors has enthusiastically selected as the Big Ten’s sixth commissioner, Kevin Warren, who currently serves as the chief operating officer for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League. I am delighted that he is with us today, along with his wife, Greta, and their daughter, Peri.

Mr. Warren earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School, his MBA from Arizona State University, and his undergraduate degree from Grand Canyon University in Arizona, where he excelled in the classroom and as a basketball player, becoming just the fifth basketball player to be inducted into Grand Canyon University’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Early in his career, Mr. Warren worked as a sports and entertainment attorney and agent, representing various professional athletes, entertainers, and broadcasters.

Before joining the Vikings, he also worked for the international law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he played playing a critical leadership role with the Wilf Ownership Group during their acquisition of the Vikings. In addition, he spent two seasons with the Detroit Lions as Senior Vice President of Business Operations and General Counsel, and four seasons with the St. Louis Rams as Vice President of Football Administration and Vice President of Player Programs and Legal Counsel.

He is now in his twenty-first year with the NFL, and his fourteenth year with the Vikings. During Mr. Warren’s time with the Vikings, the organization built a new $1.1 billion stadium on time and on budget—the largest construction project in the history of the State of Minnesota. At the same time, the Vikings went from being in the bottom five in league revenue to being firmly in the top quarter of the NFL in overall revenue.

In 2013, his reputation and NFL experience were recognized when he was named a member of the NFL Committee on Workplace Diversity, on which he has continued to serve. In 2017, during Super Bowl LI festivities in Houston, he was honored with the Texas Southern University Pioneer Award, in recognition of his ground-breaking role as an NFL executive and his commitment to championing diversity.

All of us on the selection committee were greatly impressed by Mr. Warren’s indefatigable work ethic, his abilities as a communicator, and his knowledge and passion. Over a remarkable and pioneering career, he has developed a reputation among his peers and colleagues as an individual of enormous character and integrity. And throughout his impressive professional career, he has dedicated himself to empowering young people, promoting diversity and inclusion, and to championing the positive impact athletics can have on improving people’s lives and our society.

So, please join me in welcoming the next commissioner of the Big Ten Athletic Conference, Kevin Warren.

23 comments

  1. A lot of interesting stuff in that article.

    So, the guy starts off his college career at an Ivy League school (Penn) but ended up graduating from Grand Canyon ‘University’. That doesn’t look great. Even in Phoenix GCU is a punchline.

    They chose to note, as a career highlight ,”creating financial profitability for the Vikings…”

    For God’s sake. It’s an NFL franchise. They print money. They are like big city casinos. It’s only news if you can’t make money.

    “Creating profitability?”

    Pretty sure George Halas did that for them already. As long as they can put 11 guys on the field facing the same direction they are going to ‘create profitability’.

    He may be the next greatest thing since sliced bread but this is something less than an awe inspiring rollout for the next commissioner of the Big Ten.

  2. My hope is that a new commissioner will allow a review of Big Ten officiating. There used to be a saying, “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM.” Well no one ever got fired for officiating against IU (or Purdue, Maryland, Illinois or Rutgers). Those schools have been the Washington Generals for years in the eyes of the football officials. Maybe a new commissioner will allow the grades assigned to each official to be public so the league would have to stand by the calls these officials’ make. With all the $ rolling in from the tv contract, schools like IU have little incentive to complain. But it’s not fair to fans and alumni of the “Little 5” that we start most league games 11 on 12.

  3. In this country there is example after example that those who are in the high life don’t need any kind of drug or drink to live high. It’s just in the air they breathe. It is not because of who the new commissioner is. Rather, McRobbie’s remarks (read them slowly and try to have a deep insightful analysis) are great examples representing those who are just high on life. I would argue several of the points that McRobbie notes as positives (as all his types think are positives).

  4. I don’t care where Kevin Warren graduated, I’ll bet he’s smart enough not to have chosen to host the Big Ten’s Basketball tournament in New York City! I’ll bet he’s smart enough to have selected a school other than Rutgers to join our conference. And as an attorney, I’ll bet he’s tough enough to punish schools like OSU and PSU with serious sanctions when they’re found guilty of major rules violations (like players stealing and selling dozens of football helmets, jerseys, etc. for cash and extensive tattoos). My only concern is that he is the person selected by a committee chaired by Michael McRobbie. In spite of that, I hope he does well in leading the Big Ten to new levels of success and prestige.

    1. Of course, we don’t know if he is smart enough or not. Success for a GCU grad might be driving an Uber.

      This is who Grand Canyon University lists as “notable alumni”. Anthony Birchak, Efrain Escudero, Bayard Forrest, Christine Weidinger, Grandy Glaze, Steven Green, Niki Jackson, Horacio Llamas, Randy McCament, Josh McDermitt, Moriah Peters, Tim Salmon, Randy Soderman, David Stapleton, Kevin Warren, and James White. So, there you go. I think one of those guys mows my lawn.

      Obviously, those who put him in the position are not looking for change so I can’t imagine why we would assume he would do anything differently. He is there because they view him as safe. Nobody on the selection committee is looking to shake things up.

      Time will tell.

  5. Warren got the job after Jim Phillips said no. Don’t know much about him, but why would anyone want change when the member schools are receiving just over $50M annually from the conference? And the conspiracy theories about officiating are looney. No one takes that seriously, because it’s total bunk.

    1. Yeah.

      You are pretty much spot on.

      When the deepest, most entrenched members of the establishment pick the new boss I don’t thing you are going to end up with the next great agent of change.

      He is there because he is safe. He is there because he is expected to do everything the same way it is being done.

      Betting he would make different decisions regarding events that occurred in the past is a fool’s errand. You can never be wrong. But, you can never be right, either.

      1. Exactly. He’ll have Delany’s title, job and $. But he’ll be a man in waiting for a long time, if ever, getting his position and power. $700m a year damn near insures it. GVU, everyone should be totally intimidated.

  6. There is a reason why the SEC competitively has basically left the B1G in the dust. Problem now is the ACC is in the process of doing the same thing.

    1. But the B1G makes a lot more money than the SEC, the ACC is a weak afterthought. Clemson is great, but then OSU, MI, PSU, WI are all stronger than any ACC program! Get a grip!

    2. Okay BP and FS,
      How many national championships has the B1G won in the last 25 years in the only 2 sports which matter in the revenue equation – football and men’s basketball? The answer to that question should be sufficient to tell you all you need to know from the competition standpoint. However, remember this too, the SEC and ACC have not renegotiated certain of their tv contracts, yet. They are due to be reworked in a few years, and don’t be surprised by the dollars these 2 conferences will command.

      1. So the South having better athletes just in sheer numbers has nothing to do with it?

        1. FS,
          Of course it has a lot to do with it, why do you think TA is recruiting the fire out of Florida? However, we cannot dismiss the reality of revenues flowing to the areas of greatest competition. The competitive center of the college football universe is currently found in the SEC west. We also know this is beginning to change with increased competitiveness from the SEC east and the ACC in general.

          Don’t think for a minute these levels of competition will not naturally draw an increasingly larger audience. Even more concerning than this for the basketball lovers among us, are the gains being made by the SEC. All of us know the dominant position the ACC currently occupies basketball wise, and we know the B1G has tried to stay a close 2nd. However, there is a real danger of the B1G falling to 3rd place competitively on the floor, if the SEC continues to improve at their current pace.

      2. CBS renewed its contract with the SEC in 2013. They get first choice on SEC football broadcasts through 2023. Running the numbers, the SEC settled for the change CBS found in its sofa cushions. In fact, when Mizzou and A&M joined the conference CBS refused to renegotiate and increase their payout on a per capita basis. The same pool of money was split 14 ways instead of 12. That’s right. The addition of 2 new members actually cut the TV payout to each SEC member. A lot.

        It’s not like it was a great…or good…or less than terrible contract for the SEC to begin with.

        CBS pays an average of just $55 million a year, on a contract deal that runs through the 2023 football season.

        Yes, just $55 million total for 14 regular season SEC games and the SEC title game, a grand total of 15 games.

        That equates to roughly $3.7 million per league game.

        Putting that number into perspective, ESPN will pay over $110 million PER Monday Night Football game. And the audiences aren’t that dissimilar. An average Monday Night Football game on ESPN draws about twice what an SEC game in the afternoon draws on CBS.

        So, the Bengals vs. the Jaguars on MNF garners $110 million in television revenue. Alabama and Auburn playing the Iron Bowl brings in $3.7 million.

        Few will argue with the football product the SEC puts on the field. While basketball generates little in conference interest outside of Lexington, they are still a P5 conference in the sport.

        If I were wearing my deer slayer detective cap I wouldn’t be shocked to learn the SEC negotiators picked up some outside income from their friends at the television networks. They are giving the product away.

        The SEC is a force on the field but a weak little sister in the board room. Maybe they should hire a Grand Canyon University grad to right the ship.

        1. Chet,
          You actually pointed out a major source of grumbling within SEC circles who are not very happy about that contract. Don’t think things will be quite the same in 2023. New Commissioner and he has probably has been given specific marching orders regarding how the new contract will be negotiated judging by the angst within the SEC faithful. Interesting that the former long time Commissioner, now deceased, “retired” very quickly after the 2013 contract.

  7. Hey, let’s stop the crap about his Grand Canyon University degree. The man was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, which has a lot higher academic standards than IU. How many of us would have been accepted by such an elite academic institution? Circumstances often require kids to alter their chosen path. Looks to me as if he made the most out of the opportunities presented to him.

    1. Looks a whole lot more like he had a great opportunity by being accepted to an Ivy League school, pissed it away for whatever reason, and graduated from a strip mall school in Phoenix. We didn’t even review graduate school applications from places like that or DeVry or Shaw or Lindsey Wilson when I taught at UNC. We learned the hard way it was a waste of everyone’s time.

      In fact, it doesn’t just look that way because it actually happened.

      You get credit for graduating, not for finding the parking lot.

      But, you think he deserves kudos because he washed out of a good school.

  8. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. PENN is a high flyer. Grand Canyon U, well they’re many levels lower.

  9. Chet, you have no idea why he left Penn, and to speculate that he “pissed” that opportunity away is grossly inappropriate. He was accepted into Penn, but got his B.S. degree from Grand Canyon University. Then he got his M.B.A. from Arizona State University. Then he got his J.D. from University of Notre Dame Law School (currently ranked 24th Law School in the country, six places higher than IU’s Law School and 12 places higher than UNC’s Law School). I dare say he’s as educated as anyone posting comments in this string!

  10. What? Some 19 and 20 year old’s make mistakes? Shocking. Maybe he was immature, learned from the school of hard knocks, buckled-down and made himself extremely successful – good for him.

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